Shook Ones is a personal project, inspired from one of my favorite hip-hop songs by Mobb Deep.
Music is a huge factor to my creativity. I listen to music almost all the time when I do lettering, style depends on my mood of the moment. Old school U.S. hip-hop is one of my favorite genres. Its rawness, deep beat, and the sharpness of lyrics is a huge inspiration.
“Shook Ones Pt. II” is probably one of the biggest rap tunes in history, and certainly one of the most sampled ones. I decided to create this piece while listening to Mobb Deep only, to capture this dark 90’s east coast atmosphere that I like so much.
The most obvious typographic reference to hip-hop, especially old school, is blackletter. It’s been an iconic part of the rap culture since the 90’s, and remains highly associated with anything urban today.
It felt natural to me to start with a blackletter base. Since “Shook Ones Pt. II” is such a legendary track, it couldn’t only be a beautiful blackletter piece. I had to make the lettering stand out. That’s why I decided to create a ornamental framing with swashes, to make it look like a medallion.
All my sketches are messy at first. I don’t try to do anything pretty, just get a concept out on paper. I usually make it rather small to avoid wasting time on detail and draw the whole thing fast. This process helps me visualize ideas; this ways I can quickly dismiss what won’t work and only keep the good stuff.
Like I always do when I do blackletter, I started by drawing all the verticals. This technique helps me get a consistent rhythm across the entire piece, especially width-wise. I made the letters rather narrow and wide, to reflect the sharp and cold nature of Mobb Deep’s musical style.
I started with the top swashes, then replicated them on the bottom (mirroring them horizontally, then vertically). This gives a nice symmetrical aspect to the whole piece. The swashes are intricate enough to create a cohesive ensemble, without dragging too much attention away from the lettering.
Blackletter and swashes are a match made in heaven. The straight aspect of blackletter works perfectly with the roundness of the swashes; one is organized and consistent, the other is freestyle and improvised. This is the kind of contrast you want in a lettering piece, as it will make all assets of each part pop.
I used tracing paper and multiple other techniques to bring my little sketch to a clean and ready-to-ink pencil drawing.
I never ink over my pencil sketch for multiple reasons:
- If I screw up, I don’t have a backup.
- Pencil show below the black ink.
- Erasing pencil below ink is very likely cause ink smudges and will make the black lose its luster.
This is why I always use a light table. I set myself the right environment for inking and I trace over the pencil sketch, on a brand new sheet of paper.
I started with the letters. I first traced the outline with an 0.1 Micron, then I filled them with an 0.8. After that, I inked the swashes with an 0.2. Why keep the swashes last? Because this way I wouldn’t accidentally set my hand on any freshly inked part. By turning the paper, I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t mess up what I already inked, while if I had filled the letters last, I would have been forced to use blotting paper.
The end result is a crisp blackletter lettering with beautiful decorative curls. It screams hip-hop but remains nice to look at for anyone who doesn’t know about the song.